The multibillion-dollar settlement Bayer announced in June to resolve thousands of Roundup cancer cases is stalled, lawyers said Thursday during a status conference before a federal judge.
Bayer attorney William Hoffman called the delay in finalizing the settlement “something that occurs in a lot of negotiations,” characterizing it as “a speed bump, a slight hiccup, a change in circumstances that has led one party to put things on hold temporarily” to see if they can resolve the situation.
But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California, who is overseeing the federal multidistrict litigation, said some of the plaintiffs’ lawyers had sent him confidential letters expressing concern Bayer is backing out of the deal and asking him to lift his current stay on pending litigation.
He said the lawyers had told him they were worried that Bayer “has gone back on its deal, or maybe there was no deal in the first place, I am not sure.”
“The simple fact is we’re not settled,” said one of those attorneys, Brent Wisner, adding that Bayer had “completely terminated” its agreement” with his firm. He urged the judge to lift the stay of the litigation and allow cases to proceed.
He said he “never would have agreed to a stay of litigation” if he had known there was only a possibility of settlement.
Chhabria also expressed concern, saying he was unaware that Bayer’s willingness to effect a settlement was dependent on approval of a separate class-action agreement to spend $1.25 billion to address potential future litigation.
Bayer said in June it had reached agreements with law firms representing Roundup plaintiffs to pay $8.8-$9.6 billion to resolve current litigation, “including an allowance expected to cover unresolved claims.”
Chhabria told the lawyers on a ZOOM status conference that he probably would have declined to put a halt to litigation “if you had said to me, we’ve got this settlement in place but it’s contingent on you approving some future settlement.”
“I put the litigation on hold because I thought the settlements were done,” he said.
Hoffman said that when Bayer announced the settlement in June, “the company anticipated it would be able to finalize the agreements that were described,” but that Bayer was viewing the settlement in a “holistic fashion — both the current pending cases, cases have not yet been filed but are represented by lawyers, and an arrangement to deal with potential future claimants through a class action.”
In a statement issued after the status conference, Bayer said, "We remain fully committed to resolving both the current Roundup litigation and potential future claims on a simultaneous path. A mass tort settlement of this size and complexity can take significant time before it is fully executed, and we are still early in this process. There are often some bumps in the road in implementing a resolution of this magnitude, but we remain confident that a comprehensive settlement will be finalized and executed. Indeed, while we support the court’s dual track approach over the next 30 days, we are optimistic that the finalization of the settlements over this time will make any further steps on the litigation track unnecessary.”
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Mediator Ken Feinberg, appointed to help resolve the litigation, said about 32,000 of the cases have been officially documented and settled. But the settlement was supposed to “bring closure to approximately 75% of the current Roundup litigation involving approximately 125,000 filed and unfiled claims overall," Bayer said when it announced the agreements with the law firms representing the plaintiffs.
Hoffman said the situation has become “more complicated,” adding that Bayer is “aggressively” trying to get the remaining cases resolved.
Chhabria said he would put off the decision of whether to lift the stay on litigation for 30 days, but told attorneys for both sides to prepare plans for him on how to restart the litigation. The next status conference is set for Sept. 24.
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This story has been updated to include Bayer's statement.